Best Paddleboard Exercises for Beginners: A Guide to SUP Fitness

I find stand up paddle boarding not only to be a great way to enjoy the outdoors, but also an effective full-body workout. Like any physical activity, it can be hard at first. But with the right standup paddleboard exercises and techniques, you’ll quickly prepare your body for paddleboarding.

Training on dry land before taking to the water can reduce the difficulty of getting started and improve performance. Starting out, the focus should be on exercises that enhance stability and build the core muscles crucial for maintaining balance on your paddle board.

I recommend incorporating standard core exercises such as squats, lunges, and planks as well as upper body strengthening using pushups, upward row with weight or kettle bell, overhead lifts and biceps/triceps curls. If availability of equipment is a limitation, body weight exercises can go a long way to building muscle and improving fitness for paddle boarding as well.

But beyond training at home or in the gym, exercises done on your board will give you specific strengths and skills needed to up your paddle board performance.

photo of my daughter and boyfriend on iRocker Nautical paddle board on lake
Paddle Boarding

Getting Started with Paddle Boarding

Paddleboarding requires balance and overall fitness. You can get started at any level of fitness. Once you’re up and paddling, here are some ways to get better.

Understanding the Basics of Balance and Stance

Getting a handle on balance is the backbone of paddle boarding. Start by practicing on calm, flat water. The key to finding balance is to keep your feet parallel, spread shoulder-width apart, with knees slightly bent. Position yourself around the center of the board, where there’s usually a handle, to ensure even weight distribution.

Learning to hold the paddle properly is equally important. Most people start out using the paddle exactly backwards. The curve side of the paddle should face rearward. Hand position is important.

One hand will be the end of the paddle, while with other hand on the shaft, maintaining a comfortable distance apart to give powerful and efficient strokes. You’ll be switching hand positions as you switch paddle from side to side. Paddles are adjustable, so if you don’t have a comfortable distance between your hands, shorten or lengthen the shaft as needed.

Basic Paddle Boarding Techniques

Mastering the forward paddle stroke and board turning maneuvers is essential. These techniques rely on proper form to maximize paddling power and ensure I maintain good posture, thereby reducing the risk of injury. Here are paddleboard exercises you can do while on your board.

The Forward Stroke

The forward stroke is the most fundamental paddle boarding technique and is essential to propelling the board through the water. Proper execution of the forward stroke involves engaging my core strength, which contributes to stability and power. I start by standing with my feet shoulder-width apart for balance. Gripping the paddle with one hand at the top of the handle and the other on the shaft, I ensure my arms are straight.

  • Technique: Rotate my shoulders so the paddle reaches forward, then I plant the blade fully into the water as far forward as comfortable.
  • Motion: With the blade submerged, I pull it back through the water to my ankle and lift it from the water, returning to the starting position in a smooth motion.

Focusing on using my core and back muscles instead of just my arms allows me to paddle more efficiently and for longer periods without tiring.

Turning Techniques

Turning the stand up paddle board requires a different set of movements that hinge on leverage and paddle position. Two primary turning techniques are the sweep stroke and the reverse stroke.

  • Sweep Stroke: To perform a sweep stroke, I plant my paddle at the front of the board and sweep it in a wide arc toward the tail. This widens my turn radius but is very effective at redirecting the board.
  • Reverse Stroke: For a quicker, more responsive turn, I use the reverse stroke by pushing the paddle forward through the water near the tail of the board.

In both turning techniques, I’m mindful to keep my knees slightly bent and to use my shoulders and core muscles to power the stroke, which provides stability and ensures I can steer the board in the desired direction without losing my balance.

Core Strengthening Exercises

Core strength is pivotal for stand up paddle boarding, as it helps maintain balance and endurance. Enhancing these muscles will make a significant difference in your SUP performance.

The Plank Series

The plank is a versatile exercise that engages not just the core muscles but also the glutes, shoulders, and hip flexors. I recommend starting with the basic forearm plank. Position yourself as if you’re about to do a push-up, but use your forearms for support instead of your hands. Your body should form a straight line from shoulders to heels. Aim to hold this plank for 20 to 30 seconds, gradually increasing the duration as your core strength improves.

Next, venture into the side plank to target the oblique muscles. Support your body on one forearm, stacking your feet, and lift your hips so your body forms a straight line. Extend your free arm towards the ceiling. Similar to the forearm plank, start with 20 to 30 seconds and work on building duration to boost your oblique strength.

Dynamic Yoga-Inspired Moves

Integrating Yoga poses into your routine can dynamically increase core stability. One effective asana is the Downdog to plank flow. Begin in the Downward-Facing Dog pose, a staple that strengthens and stretches the entire body. From this inverted V position, transition smoothly into a plank, hold briefly, and then lift your hips back into the Downward Dog. This repetition not merely fortifies the core but also the glutes and hip flexors, all crucial for paddle boarding.

Another yoga pose to incorporate is the Chair pose which, apart from the quads, engages the core muscles comprehensively. Stand with feet together, bend the knees, and sink your hips back as if sitting in a chair while reaching your arms overhead. Focus on drawing your navel towards the spine to activate the core muscles. Hold for 30 seconds, each time endeavoring to sink a bit lower to intensify the work on your core and glutes.

Lower Body Workouts

In my experience, focusing on the lower body is crucial for building a solid foundation for paddle boarding. I find that exercises targeting the legs, quads, glutes, and hamstrings not only improve balance on the board but also enhance overall strength.

Squats and Lunges

Squats:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lower into a squat by bending the knees, keeping weight on the heels and back straight.
  • Aim for thighs to be parallel to the ground; hold for a moment before rising back up.
  • Perform 3 sets of 12 reps.

Lunges:

  • Start in a standing position, step forward with one leg and lower your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle.
  • The back knee should hover above the ground; the front knee should be directly over the ankle.
  • Push back to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
  • Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps per leg.

This combination of squats and lunges serves as an excellent warm-up or standalone workout, preparing my lower body for the demands of stand-up paddle boarding.

Supplemental Land Exercises

On the beach, I incorporate additional exercises to further enhance my lower body workouts:

Glute Bridges:

  • Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the ground.
  • Lift the hips to create a straight line from knees to shoulders.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then lower the hips back down.
  • Perform 3 sets of 15 reps.

Calf Raises:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, either on flat ground or with the balls of your feet on a raised surface.
  • Raise heels off the ground, engaging the calf muscles, and then lower slowly.
  • Aim for 3 sets of 20 reps.

These exercises target key areas for stability and power on the paddle board, and I’ve found them to be effective in my routine. Utilizing the natural terrain of the beach for these exercises can also add varying levels of difficulty, which is beneficial for progressive training.

Upper Body and Cardio Routines

Paddling With Purpose

When I’m on the water, every paddle stroke counts. I focus on using a paddle blade effectively to maximize resistance and improve my upper body strength. For cardio, maintaining a steady pace that steadily elevates my heart rate is essential. I recommend incorporating intervals of faster paddling into your sessions. Here’s a routine I use for starters:

  1. Warm-up with 5 minutes of light paddling.
  2. Paddle hard for 1 minute, ensuring that I’m using full strokes to pull the water.
  3. Follow with 2 minutes of moderate intensity to recover while still moving.
  4. Repeat this cycle 5 times or according to your fitness level.

Targeting Arms and Shoulders

My arms and shoulders are critical for effective paddleboarding. To strengthen them, I incorporate specific exercises on land. Using a resistance band, I perform the following exercises:

  • Bicep Curls: Stand on the band, hold the ends with palms facing up, and curl arms towards my shoulders.
  • Shoulder Press: With the band under my feet, I press my arms overhead.

For each exercise:

  • 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

For paddling simulation:

  • I grab the T-grip of a paddle or even a broomstick set against a wall to mimic the paddling motion. This directly works my arm muscles, both the biceps and triceps, as well as my shoulders, strengthening my pull and push motions in the water.

Safety and Recovery

In paddleboarding, prioritizing safety and incorporating an effective recovery process are crucial to my overall experience on the water. I make sure to familiarize myself with the best practices to avoid injuries and to adequately cool down after each session of SUP exercises.

Cooling Down After Your Session

After a session, I allocate time for a cool down. This includes at least 10 minutes of stretching to reduce muscle tension and promote flexibility. My focus is on the muscle groups that were most engaged during paddleboarding, such as my shoulders, back, core, and legs. Proper cooling down helps in my body’s recovery and is as important as the warm-up to prevent muscle stiffness and preserve joint health.

  • Post-Paddleboarding Stretch Routine:
    • Shoulder and arm stretches
    • Torso twists
    • Hamstring and calf stretches
    • Gentle yoga poses for full-body relaxation